Book Review: The Incorruptibles

The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs, The Incorruptibles #1

In the contested and unexplored territories at the edge of the Empire, a boat is making its laborious way upstream. Riding along the banks are the mercenaries hired to protect it – from raiders, bandits and, most of all, the stretchers, elf-like natives who kill any intruders into their territory. The mercenaries know this is dangerous, deadly work. But it is what they do.

In the boat the drunk governor of the territories and his sons and daughters make merry. They believe that their status makes them untouchable. They are wrong. And with them is a mysterious, beautiful young woman, who is the key to peace between warring nations and survival for the Empire. When a callow mercenary saves the life of the Governor on an ill-fated hunting party, the two groups are thrown together.

For Fisk and Shoe – two tough, honourable mercenaries surrounded by corruption, who know they can always and only rely on each other – their young companion appears to be playing with fire. The nobles have the power, and crossing them is always risky. And although love is a wonderful thing, sometimes the best decision is to walk away. Because no matter how untouchable or deadly you may be, the stretchers have other plans.


Each year a lot of books are published, books that fall into a singular genre or that have a bit of two genres working in their favor. Next to those you also have complete mashups, and there you will find John Hornor Jacobs' latest book: The Incorruptibles. Being presented with the synopsis of his book, I couldn't say no. I still stand to my first notice of the books that I like: book where authors go into a new direction and try out new stuff. This is exactly what The Incorruptibles is. When I was only a few pages into the book I already tweeted that it's one big mashup of good stuff and from the first pages right until the last the book didn't disappointment me at all. John Hornor Jacobs' The Incorruptibles is just what fantasy needs at the moment, guts to try new things and working them in away that it pays off completely or go down guns blazing, and John did the former, yes there are still guns blazing as well! 

The first thing that really falls to note in The Incorruptibles and for which I have to give the book a lot of praise is the setting and the world that John Hornor Jacobs has built. In the synopsis you can already pick out a few influences likes the elves. The world is for me inspired by: 1. the classic Epic Fantasy, you have elves and dwarfs, 2. A Romanesque (Called Ruman in the book) - Renaissance/Victorianesque feeling by the places and how the characters act 3. Western because of the Gunslinging action that takes place and 4. the dark and gritty setting achieved by the influence of demons and such. I already mentioned that The Incorruptibles is a mash-up and perhaps when you read these think you might think how on Earth can this ever work together. Well trust me when I say that it's all works well and these elements all build on each other to make them come out even that much stronger. I definitely liked the proposed setting that John Hornor Jacobs' introduces in this first book. It leaves you wanting more and it is with such settings that you never really know what will be in store for you on the other page. I got my hooked from the first page! 

The story of The Incorruptibles picks up in a explanatory kind of way, the plot only becomes clear after you read through about half of the book. This didn't bug me at all since I was still taken by the awesome world that was envisaged. What John Hornor Jacobs does in the first half of his book is building his world, putting the setting right and explaining what makes his world go round. This was for me a perfect move to get introduced to his world. The Incorruptibles is a genre mash-up and in order to get, as a reader, the full gist and all the intentions right of what is proposed in his book such an informative introduction was needed. You not only learn about the world itself, races and empires and rulers but also get to learn much of the characters themselves and what makes them tick. 

Ok but what is the story about? In The Incorruptibles you follow the two mercenaries Fisk and Shoe, whose current job it is to protect a high placed Ruman politician Cornelius. Fisk is the best compared to an old school western gunslinger, an avid gun collector who doesn't mind to shoot his hellfire gun blasting his opponents to shreds and then asking the questions. Shoe is definitely more the opposite of Fisk, Shoe is also a dvergar, like a dwarf, he doesn't carry any shooting weapons but is well versed with his set of knifes. Shoe acts a bit like the scholar in this story contemplating the actions of hisself and that of Fisk to see what they can do best. Cornelius resides on his steamtrawler/ship which is named Cornelius as well, this should readily tell you something about his personality. The Cornelian is navigating through a hostile area, filled with creatures knows as stretchers or also the Vaetter. They lurk around ever corner to cause some trouble, and this isn't trouble in throwing a rock here and there. When Fisk and Shoe encounter them it is left with blood, a lot of it. On the Cornelian, Cornelius has most of his family, they are quite the family with their moments of happy banter but also have their moments where would happily throw each other off the boat or give one up to the stretchers...

Both Fisk and Shoe have been partners for quite a while you can clearly see that they have a great bond together, they have faced some tough battles but their current adventure will give them an extra handful, well at least Fisk... After the aforementioned introduction to the world and characters, the story takes on a turn as the plot line is revealed, I do not want to delve to much into it since it will definitely spoil it for you but what I can say and must emphasize is that John Hornor Jacobs does throw his story in a very rapid pacing and you have to brace yourself. As now Fisk and Shoe only have one task remaining, well actually, Fisk takes the task upon himself to stop a war from emerging. And it isn't just a shallow statement by Fisk but it's a commitment, Fisk knows who is in play here and this brings back some awful memories (yes, Fisk hasn't had a history that you can describe as "easy") , by this move you are again provided with a lot of information that only further developed the characters and the story. Don't think that the last part is all about Fisk though as Shoe is needed to keep everything in check, because when you are working together with demons, bad stuff can happen in a turn of a hand. There is so much more going on in The Incorruptibles than had previously met the surface.

The story center mostly around the two mercenaries Fisk and Shoe, I already mentioned that they are a bit of opposite poles when it comes to personalities. This might not be a new idea to portray a duo in this way but it does cause a lot of funny scenes. I enjoyed reading about the adventures that they had. John Hornor Jacobs wrote has invested a lot of time, in the beginning, in showing the personalities and quirky habits of both of them, which only paid of in the long run. By this I early on got a great establishement of them within the story and only enjoyed their dealings much more later on. Just a example: Fisk is always the one that rushes into action and thinks later whereas Shoe contemplates his moves carefully, but when Fisk is given an extra hand later in the book, it is Shoe who has to keep him in check and it's hard to say if this really is a bit like parenting or just a friend looking out, this scene also had on one side some humor in it but on the other side a dark undercurrent. I think only if you do understand their characters that you can enjoy these kind of dialogues or scenes to the fullest. John Hornor Jacobs has created with Fisk and Shoe two great characters and though everything is in the fantasy fiction mash-up setting you will easily fall for them and cheer them on. The secondary characters like the family of Cornelius is really a merry bunch and they are shown just as any normal family would, well a stuck-up family at least. Though  there are some family members that do pop out above the others, they were all a lot of fun to read about. There are some mentioning of other characters like King Diegal, I hope that they will be introduced later on in the series. On the whole the characters just as the world that is created within The Incorruptibles are engaging and well developed.

Another thing where I have to give a big thumbs up for is the action that take place, actually more the technology that is used in these action scenes and in particular the guns and power behind it. Take for example The Cornelian it is a trawler but not just one solely powered by steam... hang on one moment. I already had a reference to Fisk that he likes to shoot his Hellfire gun. Well you have to take Hellfire as literal as it gets, these kind of guns have demons in them! and so does the trawler the Cornelian. Ruman technology is great isn't it! The way that John Hornor Jacobs describes these weapons and the technology and how they act in combat is just so cool to read. I also liked that he took the time to explain just what it actually is, how they work and how they are made, making them not a total black box anymore. And how does this daemonic presence promise work out in the whole of the story? Just awesome. Period. 

Did I like The Incorruptibles. Hell yes! I often mention that I like to see author going into new directions with their books and this is definitely what John Hornor Jacobs is doing, mashing up several genres, in a terrific way (mashing up genres often goes horribly wrong), to create a completely never before seen setting. This is one of a kind, in a bestest (i know it isn't a word) way possible. From the world down to the characters, John Hornor Jacobs has a great way of highlighting the bigger picture, keeping enough obscure to be explored in the possible sequel, as well as showing the minor details that make the character tick. Though The Incorruptibles might start of slow for a lot of readers, for me this was just a great build up of tension, getting grips on the richly imagined world that features ever vividly be it in a grimdark setting in The Incorruptibles. The same count for the characters, it might be a lengthy introduction but it readily establishes a baseline for the remainder of the story. And that remainder is a rapid dash to the ending of the book, too bad it is over to soon. The Incorruptibles is a great opener to a new series, you will learn a lot, some questions are answered but a lot more raised. I am already a big fan of this series and am looking forward to see just in which direction John Hornor Jacobs will take his story next.

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